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Clearwater man gets probation for extortion

His attorney called him a whistle-blower, a man whose warnings about corruption at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority were starting to bear fruit.

But prosecutor Douglas Crow said Friday that James R. McFrederick, once a leading Clearwater businessman, is "a very disturbed individual" who "still perceives everyone else being the problem and not himself."

A jury last month convicted McFrederick of extortion for paying a man in 1988 to gather damaging information about the personal life of Edward White Jr., then the Housing Authority's executive director.

At McFrederick's sentencing Friday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer found Crow's analysis to be more on target.

She sentenced McFrederick, 53, to five years of probation and ordered him to receive weekly psychological counseling sessions.

In an unusual move, the judge said she would personally keep track of McFrederick's progress. She said she would order the counseling to stop when she thought McFrederick was better.

"I think, sir, that you've got real severe psychological problems," including "a compulsive, paranoid personality," she said.

McFrederick, she said, had been "obsessive" about a long-running dispute with the Housing Authority that started when White canceled three lucrative contracts with McFrederick to provide low-income housing.

The feud continued when McFrederick was indicted in 1987 by a federal grand jury on charges he and a business partner bribed two former Housing Authority officials. Federal prosecutors dropped the charges in 1990 after two trials ended in hung juries.

Last month during the extortion trial, and again Friday, McFrederick said several people had conspired against him, including White, the St. Petersburg police, federal prosecutors and federal housing officials. He also has implicated a federal judge.

"I'm sure that I will be added to your list," Schaeffer told McFrederick. "I have no doubt about it."

The jury in the extortion case found that McFrederick paid James D. Reale for pictures of a 1988 "tryst" that White was having with a woman at a St. Petersburg motel.

Reale and McFrederick did not know that White and St. Petersburg police had staged the tryst after White's office began getting suspicious phone calls asking about his personal life.

The jury also heard a recorded conversation between White and McFrederick at a restaurant. In it, prosecutors said, McFrederick told White he would call off Reale if White reinstated McFrederick's public housing contracts.

McFrederick insisted Friday he did not know who Reale was and that he was simply gathering information on White, as he had been doing for years. "I was not extorting Mr. White," he told Schaeffer.

After a federal investigation, White was suspended last month from his Housing Authority post for allegedly mishandling the sale of the Laurel Park housing complex and the relocation of its residents.

Defense attorney Brent D. Armstrong said he initially "blew off" McFrederick's claims about the Housing Authority. But now they seem "to be coming true," he said, alluding to White's removal.

White and Crow asked the judge to give McFrederick jail time.

And Schaeffer appeared ready to do it after McFrederick, who has no previous criminal record, maintained he was the innocent victim of a setup.

"As I hear you, you're like so many other defendants," she said. "You're digging yourself in a hole."

As a judge, she said, "you want to hear that this type of thing is going to stop, that there's some remorse."

In addition to the probation sentence, McFrederick was ordered to pay prosecutors' costs. Schaeffer also told him to stay away from White and Ed Judy, the police detective who worked on the case.

"If you see them in the grocery store," she said, "you turn around and leave."